The “Scissors Murder”
The story of the youngest woman ever to have committed a murder in South Africa
On the morning of 4 November 1974 Christiaan van der Linde attempted to telephone his wife a number of times and eventually became concerned when there was no reply. He spoke to his daughter Zelda, who worked at Tygerberg Hospital, and asked her to go home during her lunch break to see if there was anything wrong. When Miss van der Linde arrived home, the house was locked up, but through a window she caught a glimpse of her mother, who was lying on the floor in the living room. She summoned the police to the home in Gladstone Street, Boston Estate, a suburb of Bellville in the nothern suburbs of Cape Town.
Mrs Susanna Magdalena van der Linde, a suburban housewife and mother of two sons and a daughter, was brutally murdered. The body was found with the jaw broken in no less than two places, probably as a result of being hit with a pistol, and death resulted from the victim being strangled and stabbed seven times in the left breast with a closed pair of scissors. Four of the stab wounds had penetrated her heart.
The police later took Van der Linde to the scene in order to identify the body of his wife. According to the police officials present, his reaction was callous, as though he already knew, simply turning the body of the murdered woman over with his foot. He was never charged as an accomplice.
The police immediately began an intensive murder investigation. Their chief suspect was ‘a crippled Coloured man’ who had been seen in the district on at least two occasions prior to the’ murder.
For the next week, police efforts to establish Choegoe’s identity and whereabouts proved fruitless. Then, on 13 November, the breakthrough occurred. At around 7.30 a.m. on the morning of 13 November, Lieutenant Roland Fourie of the Brixton Murder and Robbery Squad went to see a young lady called Marlene Lehnberg who was staying at her uncle’s house in Bryanston, and asked her to accompany him to Brixton Police Station where he wished to ask her some questions. Lehnberg admitted on the way to the police station that Christiaan van der Linde was her lover and that she had been expecting the police to contact her in connection with the death of his wife ever since she had learnt of the murder of Susanna van der Linde from her mother. At first no one considered that Lehnberg was involved, or that she could have hired an assassin.
When asked if she had an association with ‘a Coloured man named Marthinus’ she denied the allegation. Lieutenant Fourie also asked her if she had once requested a Mr Robert Newman to give her his pistol so that she could ‘get rid of her’ (Mrs van der Linde). Lehnberg admitted that she had, but that the request had been made in fun. Although Lieutenant Fourie had no specific evidence to tie Lehnberg to the murder, it did strike him that she seemed unnaturally nervous at times during the interview.
While Lieutenant Fourie was on the telephone to Cape Town, another detective, Major van Aswegen, began asking Lehnberg questions. Suddenly, she blurted out, “I took the guy there. I waited for him. He came back and I took him home.”
Lehnberg was arrested and formally charged with the murder of Mrs van der Linde. Later that day, she made a full statement in which she admitted that she had asked Marthinus [Choegoe], a leg patient at the Red Cross Hospital, if he would ‘do away’ with Mrs van der Linde. In the statement she claimed that she had waited in the car while her accomplice had committed the crime. Choegoe was arrested the same day. (In fact, it was because of Choegoe that Mrs van der Linde insisted that her husband buy her a dye pistol.)
The trial of Marlene Lehnberg and Marthinus Charles Choegoe began at the Cape Town Supreme Court on 5 March 1975. The trial drew hundreds of spectators who fought for seats in the packed courtroom.
The story continues on the next page…